- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
ATHENS, Ga. -- One of the greatest sources of intrigue on Georgia’s basketball roster is not even a scholarship player.
Not for basketball, anyway.
Freshman forward Jay Rome has played in only three games -- he has yet to score and has made one rebound in a total of five minutes -- but a horde of reporters gathered around him during the Bulldogs’ Tuesday media session.
The interest in Rome stems less from his on-court performance than for his status as the first Bulldogs football player in nearly a decade to also play basketball. Rome -- rated as the nation’s top tight end prospect in the 2011 signing class -- redshirted in football last fall, but his football responsibilities still kept him away from the bulk of the basketball team’s preseason practices.
“He missed all the breakdown drills defensively,” Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox said. “He missed the implementation of 70 percent of our system, if not more. Probably three-quarters of it. Then to practice two days and be gone for five and then be gone for a couple weeks, that’s a real challenge, especially for any freshman.”
Still, Fox said he believes that not only could Rome become a serviceable SEC basketball player, but Rome's work with the basketball team could actually sharpen his physical tools for football season.
“It’ll really help him, I think,” Fox said. “His ability to change directions, move in short spaces. I think it will help his conditioning.”
In fact, Rome has told Fox of a plan to give a symbolic nod to his basketball career during football season, but the coach said he is not on board.
“He’s promised me he’ll dunk a ball over the goalposts if he scores a touchdown and I said, ‘That’s great except that you’ll get a penalty and then Coach [Mark] Richt will be beating my door down,’ so we’re going to nix that plan,” Fox laughed.
Rome said his weight fluctuated into the low 260s during football season, but he’s now carrying 252 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame.
That size makes him somewhat of a ‘tweener in basketball between small forward and power forward, but Fox believes Rome could still be a valuable player despite the uncertainty over his natural position and his time away from hoops.
“He may not this year ever know all the details. He won’t,” Fox said. “He just missed too much, but he makes up for it. He’s very bright. I think the thing about a football guy that maybe he just sees schemes so much better than a lot of guys. Maybe that’s his football background, I don’t know, but he’s very bright.”
At one point, Rome was not the only Georgia football player who intended to moonlight on the basketball court.
Fellow freshman Nick Marshall also expressed an interest in playing basketball, but Marshall did not redshirt, so he had less time available to attempt to play a second sport. Plus Georgia’s backcourt is full of experienced veterans, so Marshall would have contributed in an extremely limited role.
He could still join the team in the future, however.
“I don’t anticipate having Nick at all this year,” Fox said. “In the future, I wouldn’t rule that out.”